Monday, September 14, 2020

The Boom Stick Staking His Claim For Cooperstown

By Steve Brenna

In the past two decades, the traditional "ticket-punching" numbers for Hall of Fame consideration have changed a bit as the game played before us has changed. The 500-homer plateau that once signaled automatic enshrinement no longer has the same clout as it once did, as eight of the 27 players in MLB history to reach the plateau have not yet been enshrined in the baseball Hall of Fame in fabled Cooperstown, New York.

However, as the "Steroid Era" fades into the background, the 500-homer milestone has begun to regain some of its prestige, as it has seemingly become a rare achievement once again. After nine players reached the 500-homer mark in the decade from 2000-2010, only two players (Albert Pujols and David Ortiz) have reached the mark in the past 12 years.

There are only a handful of active players within earshot of the 500-club, and one of them is Nelson Cruz, who has put himself into Hall of Fame consideration with unbelievable numbers he's put up beyond the age of 30. At age 29, Cruz had a ho-hum 77 career homers, a part-time player with solid but unremarkable numbers.

And then, something clicked. It could be said it began in 2009, when Cruz banged 29 homers in just 128 games for Texas. From that point on, he began a run of 10 consecutive seasons of at least 22 homers, including a run from 2014-2019 where he hit 35 homers or more, at the ages of 33-38.

At age 40, Cruz continues to be one of the top sluggers in the AL, and is currently tied for the major league lead with 16 homers in just 45 games. Nearing age 40, Cruz would be on pace for 57 homers in a full 162 game season, and in addition to his torrid home run pace he's currently second in all of baseball with a .669 SLG, second in OPS at a 1.089 clip, sixth in OBP at .420, and 10th in average at .331.

The "Boom Stick" now sits at 417 career homers, fourth among active players behind first ballot Hall of Famers Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera, as well as Edwin Encarnacion, who currently sits just five home runs ahead of Cruz on the all-time list. With 12 games left in the Twins schedule, its likely Cruz will reach 20 homers for the 12th consecutive season, a feat that does not automatically put him in Hall of Fame consideration, but is quite impressive for a player who had well under 100 home runs at age 30.

In fact, Cruz's numbers past the age of 30 stack up favorably with some of the all-time greats. Below is Cruz's slash line and production from age 30-39 compared to several greats of the same era:

Cruz: .280/.351/.538/.889, OPS+ 139, 339 HR, 914 RBI
Pujols: .268/.331/.475/.806, OPS+ 121, 290 HR, 963 RBI
Rodriguez: .282/.378/.521/.899, OPS+ 136, 258 HR, 829 RBI
Griffey, Jr: .264/.358/.500/.857, OPS+ 119, 232 HR, 677 RBI

While his numbers in his twenties fail to stack up against the Hall of Famers listed above, Nelly's performance over the past 10+ seasons have established him as one of the greatest sluggers of the modern era, and if they don't propel him to the Hall of Fame, the Hall of Very Good for a player who appeared to be a journeyman at 28 is still quite an accomplishment.

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